Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Andy's CBJ Season in Review, Part Two

El Jefe
by Andy Krygier

To this day, it blows my mind that a player who was brought in to fill such a dire need was moved out having played less than half a season’s worth of games.  It further blows my mind that it was the right move to make, both times.

The sequence of events that culminated with the Jeff Carter acquisition dates back to the dawn of Blue Jackets history.  The search for a centerman to complement (or compliment, even) Rick Nash has defined the franchise as much as other singular storyline.  For their efforts, the Blue Jackets have only had three centers accrue more than 47 points in a single season (A. Cassels, 68pts, ‘02-‘03; A. Vermette, 65pts, ‘09-‘10; E. Knutsen, 53pts, ‘00-‘01).

Knowing that, consider this:

EVERY playoff team this year but Washington and Phoenix has at least one center with more than 47 points.  Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom had 44 points in only 42 games, so make it 15 out of 16.

Further, 11 of the 16 have more than one center with more than 47 points (Boston with three, the other ten with two each), which finally brings us to the point.  Of the 28 centers that made the playoffs and scored more than 47 points this year, 24 were drafted by their current team.

Since the lockout, only Derick Brassard, Antoine Vermette, and 72 year old Sergei Fedorov have scored more than 35 points while playing center for the Blue Jackets.

That’s not to say the Blue Jackets haven’t tried to draft centers; though they took their time with it.  Gilbert Brule (2005), Brassard (2006), and Ryan Johansen (2010) were all top 6 picks – while Brule is a notorious bust, Brassard is at a minimum competent and Johansen has, at times, shown the elite skill that made him the 4th overall pick.  Beyond that, the Jackets drafted Dan Fritsche (2003), Kevin Lynch (2009), and Boone Jenner (2011) in the second round; Jeff Genovy (2002), who you’ve never heard of, was taken in the third round.  So prior to 2005, the only centers taken were one second round pick, one third round pick, and a bunch of other late picks that aren’t worth the pain to talk about.

Enter El Jefe.

Jeff Carter was acquired for Jakub Voracek and the Blue Jackets’ 1st and 3rd round picks in 2011. A hefty sum, to be sure, but the move was more or less applauded around the league.  Regardless of the price, one thing was certain; Carter was now the best center in franchise history without even stepping on the ice (or talking to his new team’s management, for that matter).

We will never really know what was going on in Jeff Carter’s head this summer.  Was he really just mad at Philadelphia for betraying him a few months after signing a massive contract?  Or were the suspicions of many correct? Was he both mad at Philadelphia AND not want to come to Columbus?

I count myself among those who are overly defensive about this touchy subject – it is undoubtedly not without cause.  When the three best moments in franchise history are two firings and getting swept from the only playoff series you’ve ever witnessed, you know it’s not going well.  Recently, Vancouver’s GM commented about how he “felt like Columbus” after getting knocked out in the first round (Vancouver does not have a powerhouse college football team or the world’s largest basket/office building, if you’re not certain or what he is referring to). National sports writers and TV personalities regularly poke fun at Columbus on a host of fronts, etc.  Even our own sportswriters are prone to taking shots at the franchise, however deserved.  Given the endless and repetitive nature of this type of treatment, it was almost natural to reach the conclusion that Carter was mad at Philly AND didn’t want to play for Columbus. In retrospect, it was probably the correct conclusion.

On the ice, Carter’s tenure can best be described as inconsistent with shades of outright dominance.  He managed 15-10-25 in 39 games; however, 6 goals came in the form of two hat tricks. Some would point to that as a negative since you know, what about the rest of the games?  My rebuttal amounts to “stop being an idiot”.  Further, he suffered two separate injuries that had him out for a while and surely limited his numbers.
Carter’s public statements on the matter basically amount to “it’s not you, it’s me”, which translated to English from BS means “it’s you; here’s a list of 29 teams I would accept a trade to”.  It’s almost hilarious to even say something like that and expect to be taken seriously – everyone knows what it means.  To Carter’s credit (I guess), he didn’t trash Columbus when he was traded to LA, which he surely could have.  He may not have hated it here and he may have even been okay with being traded here, but it seems indisputable to me that he never really wanted to be here.

The news of Jeff Carter trade surprised approximately zero people.  Howson had apparently been telling Aaron Portzline for months that he would be moved and so it finally happening was more of a relief than anything else, to me anyways.  Some were clamoring for a Nash trade rather than a Carter trade citing random spurts of high level play.  My view was Carter should be moved period, Nash was a wild card, though at that point Howson hadn’t inexplicably told the world about Nash’s trade request yet (a preview of a future post, for those keeping score).

The thing that bugged me the most about all of this is that getting fans to like you just isn’t that hard.  Jack Johnson became a fan favorite less than an hour after the trade was completed.  If you can’t write a statement, have your agent write one.  If your agent only speaks French, hire someone. If you’re Latrell Sprewell and spending all of your money feeding your small country of children, find someone in your new organization to write one.  IT’S FREAKING EASY and Carter couldn’t even be bothered to do it.  You may see it differently, but I have a hard time seeing it differently.

As I’ve said, and as many have argued, there is no truth to be found here.  We simply do not know what was going on in Jeff Carter’s head for his 8 months as a Blue Jacket.  Whatever the case, the responsibility for the perceptions of so many fans rests solely with him.  He has the right to behave how he chooses, but I have the right to observe his behavior and make my own conclusions in the absence of better information.  It’s really quite straight-forward.

In the end, trading Jakub Voracek, the 8th pick, and a 3rd for Jack Johnson and the 17th-20th is at least a passable trade.  I suspect we will regret not waiting to find out that Sean Courturier was available, but it cannot be undone. The real value is having players who are bought in to putting the Blue Jackets sweater on.  You can rightly question whether Jeff Carter ever wanted to be here – with Jack Johnson, there is no doubt – he couldn’t wait to tell Columbus how much he wanted to be there.  Well, Jack, it’s mutual.  Welcome to our city.

[DBJ thanks Andy for this terrific post, and for letting me litter it with silly graphics.]

7 comments:

  1. Andy, I think the Jeff Carter thing is not nearly as much of a mystery as it is made out to be. It is all infront of you. One of the Stanley Cup contenders signs you to a long term deal and several months later, from the contender you are on your way to "hope to become a pretender one day". I don't care who you are and what statements people make for public relations sake, I think 8 out of 10 people in the same situation would not be pleased with such a situation. The remaining 2 likely include those players who were going to get much more playing time with the new team and gladly consider sacrificing the holy grail for the time being in favor of actually playing the game they love to play, develop themselves and make themselves more marketable. This was not Jeff Carter's situation. I think his reaction was perfectly natural reaction. It could have been masked by better public relations because there was no turning back, but behind the facade, it is wholly understandable (not even to get into considerations about quality of life in the two different cities for him and his family). The difference is that he may not have accepted his fate before the trade. I am sure acceptance was postponed by how quickly the team was out of playoff contention. We are too quick to judge as fans of the worst NHL team looking for any kind of improvements. I don't know Jack.

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    1. I think his reaction was perfectly normal for a person who sulks his way through life when it doesn't go exactly according to plan.

      The rest of us have real problems to worry about, Carter was whining about which city he gets paid millions to play a sport in. I'm not naive enough to think that money is even part of the equation here, but that kind of argument doesn't get you very far in the public eye.

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    2. All true, including that you gotta treat fans with respect relating to the example below. But the problem is that his contract was probably such that it gave him the luxury to act the way he did and sulking was not going to cost him anything in the short term. He is a King now, and if he performs well over there, that particular fanbase won't care for how he did as a CBJ. Think about how Lindros' career started and how it ended. So it comes down to how it comes down to most players - very few are loved by all hockey fans. Carter will forever be a villain for his CBJ days. Philly will be a villain for how quickly it broke its long term commitment to him. Unfortunately loyalty is not necessarily part of the current business environment. His lasting legacy as a hockey player is still to be written. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone his behavior but I understand it under his circumstances and that our worlds are much different. If I am not happy at my work, I would not be able to achieve desired changes by not being a team player. Do we blame the player or do we blame the game? A bit of both, but the thing that suck is that it is the fans that pay for both the player and the game.

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  2. My friend lined up to get Carter's autograph that game they were posted thruout the arena and each player was to sign 200. My friend was #105 and he walked away after 100 with a big line waiting!
    Tells you all you need to know.
    Good post.

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    1. Indeed that fits with him not being a good person, in some sense.

      I'd be okay with that kind of stuff, however rude it is, if it was limited to off the ice behavior, but I'm not sure that it was.

      Glad you enjoyed it.

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